GENRE: Fiction • Historical • Lesbian • Romance
LENGTH: 16,118 words
April 1939. Warsaw, Poland. To the casual observer, the houses on Podwale Street look very much alike. Yet at 16 Podwale, nothing is as it seems. Within, the walls hold many secrets that could destroy the lives of its inhabitants as they witness the city’s ever-mounting tide of Nazism.
Wealthy recluse Elwira Malinowska is more an observer than participant in life. In her seclusion at 16 Podwale, she watches the world pass her by. Then Raz Zielinsky comes to work as a housemaid for her father, and Elwira’s life is suddenly divisible by two -- the time before Raz and the time after.
Years pass, and the women become lovers. They depend on each other. Elwira is Raz’s protector, and Raz is Elwira’s conduit to the outside world, where people speak of nothing but the continual threat of war with Germany.
Elwira, a steadfast Catholic, believes Pope Pius XII will intervene to save Poland from the rumblings of a maniac and an imminent invasion. But when the Pope fails to mediate peace and the political situation worsens, Elwira and Raz plan their escape to freedom.
Will their plan succeed? Or is it already too late?
Note: may contain sexually explicit scenes of a homoerotic nature.
“Why not call me sweetheart? Please, Raz.”
“And what if I slip when someone else is present?”
“I might call you, my darling Wira, or some such term of endearment when you have guests, those people of the highest social order. I think it is best if I not get into the habit, don’t you?”
“Hmm.” Elwira stopped brushing, sighed, and considered her face in the mirror. The pale skin, light blue eyes, and thin white eyebrows, like trails from the tines of a fork in spilled salt. Elwira saw the outline of a face behind hers. Raz. What a lovely blur. “Hmm,” she said again, “I wouldn’t mind getting into your habit.”
“Wira!” Raz giggled, then put a hand up to her mouth.
“You’re blushing, my dear.”
“I am not,” Raz said. She turned away, a moving shadow in Elwira’s mirror.
“I thought I was supposed to be a maid, not a nun.”
“We could pretend.” Elwira dropped the hairbrush on the table and walked into the bathroom. In the doorway, she reached around for the light switch then averted her eyes from the brightness. She adjusted the dimmer and gradually looked back until she could see her way to the tub. A moment later she came back into the bedroom naked and found Raz peeking through the drapes, looking out on Podwale.
“The rains will come soon,” Elwira said. “The German soldiers will never make it into Warsaw. Try not to worry, Raz. I will take good care of you. You trust me, don’t you?”
“I do,” Raz said, “but many are saying their armies will enter the city and --”
“But what if they do?”
Elwira sighed heavily. “Then we will deal with it, you and I. Together.”
“Yesterday I overheard Bialas tell his cook the Germans have larger tanks, a greater air force, and more soldiers than we have.”
“Just gossip, Raz, from people who know nothing and like to talk. We have spoken of this many times. We will be safe here. Just as we are.”
“No,” Raz said. “The Germans are making plans. They want to destroy Poland. People say they hate anyone who is different.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that.” She paused, then said, “But people of my wealth --”
Raz rolled her eyes.
“-- and social standing should not be so affected by such things.”
“I wonder,” Raz said.
“That is your problem. You wonder too much.” Elwira put her arms around her partner and held her tight. “Even if the soldiers manage to get past our armies and our planes ... No, it won’t happen. We are Catholics. The Pope, His Holiness, will not, cannot let it happen. He has promised peace for all.”
Raz muttered something and pulled away but kept hold of Elwira’s hand.
“Best to leave politics to the politicians, Raz.”
“And the Pope,” Raz said. “Is he a politician as well?”
“I imagine he has to be. Sometimes.”
“But the Germans hate us,” Raz said. “They want our land. Look what they’ve done to Czechoslovakia, to Lithuania.”
“The British and the French have agreed to help Poland if need be.” Elwira saw Raz shake her head. “Listen, here is an example. Nice and concrete. It will be like giving a large dinner party. Someone calls at the last minute. A guest is ill and cannot come. So what do you do?”
“You’re asking me? How would a commoner know about such things as fine dinner parties?”
“You have a point.” Then Elwira smiled and kissed Raz lightly below her ear. “Here’s what you do. You make an adjustment at the table with the place cards. You will see, Raz, a bit of shuffling in the government then back to normal. My father would never have worried.”